Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 647 - 659)




  647. Can I welcome you to the Committee? Would you like to identify yourself for the record, please?
  (Ms Wallace) Yes. I am Moira Wallace, head of the Social Exclusion Unit.

  648. Do you want to say anything to us by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Ms Wallace) Can I say a little bit about our involvement in this subject? As you know, we are just starting a project on transport and social exclusion. It was announced about a month ago. It is one of four policy development projects we are doing at the moment, the others being on ex-prisoners, young runaways and education of children in care. The reason we have been asked to do this I think is because transport has often come up as an issue in studies that we have been involved with in the unit or that other departments have done on social exclusion through policy action teams and other things. At the moment, the project is called "Transport and Social Exclusion" but we are almost still at the stage of scoping out exactly what we are going to look at and identifying issues and questions. I would not want you to read anything into the word "transport", for example that by transport we mean things with wheels and engines. The intention of the project is to look at how people get where they need to get and so obviously walking is an issue which we identify as quite useful to cover.

  Miss McIntosh: When is the scoping exercise expected to be completed?

  Mrs Dunwoody: Can we avoid the word "scoping"? English might be nice.

Miss McIntosh

  649. It was presented to me as a good word to use. Will it cover public transport? If I could give you an example of my own constituency, the previous witnesses touched on York and the pedestrianisation of York itself. I represent many of the outlying areas north of York, where the bus service is often irregular because of congestion in town. I see that there is evidence that the lowest income group throughout the country makes the greatest use of taxis or minicabs as opposed to other income groups. I wonder whether you will cover all forms of public transport as well.
  (Ms Wallace) I expect we would. To explain what we mean by scoping, we mean a period of a couple of months during which we try and identify what is known through existing statistics and existing research and what is not known and how long it is going to take us to find those things out. What are the particular questions that we need to focus on within the topic? What sort of information is available? What sort of information will need to be found? What sort of questions will we need to ask during the public consultation we will have? None of the issues that you have mentioned seems to me likely to fall outside the scope of the project.

  650. Presumably walking to the bus stop, for example, will be covered. I just wondered what research had been commissioned to date or is it still at such an early stage?
  (Ms Wallace) I am afraid we are at too early a stage for me to be able to answer that.

  651. How does the Social Exclusion Unit see the benefits of walking both as a means of transport and as a means of integrating in social life generally and working life generally?
  (Ms Wallace) It is clearly important because if people cannot get to where they need to—and walking is part of every journey, as a lot of people have said to you—they are going to be socially excluded in some ways. They are going to be unable to access services that they have a right to access.

  652. Has any of the work that the Social Exclusion Unit has done shown that, for example, transport or lack of transport has proved a barrier to integration in more ways than one?
  (Ms Wallace) It has come up as a topic in quite a lot of work, as I mentioned in my opening statement, work that we have done and work that other departments have done. For example, when we did our work on teenage pregnancy, how far people have to travel to get access to contraception is clearly an issue. That is just one example. You could approach that either by changing the locations where people can get access to contraception or making it easier for them to get to the existing locations. Most departments and we to an extent have felt that it deserved a separate study, which is what we are now doing.

  653. Would you agree with the statistic that for low income households 60 per cent of journeys are on foot?
  (Ms Wallace) That is what we have been told. I have no reason to disbelieve it.

  654. Would you use the study that the unit has commissioned to look at ways of actually increasing walking?
  (Ms Wallace) I think it is a little too early to answer that because the way we try to do the work is we try and identify the questions and then answer them. I cannot say that we know the answer. I suppose as a general principle though people who are socially excluded and poor should have choices too and the choices should include walking in safety but they should also include other ways of getting longer distances when walking is not feasible.

  655. I was intrigued by the example that you used about access to contraception. Is the Social Exclusion Unit suggesting that there is a higher incidence of teenage pregnancies in this country because teenagers have further to walk to get contraceptive advice?
  (Ms Wallace) We said what we had to say on teenage pregnancy in our report which was nearly two years ago. There are many, many reasons why we have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than other countries. Access to contraception is a very big issue and is one of them.

  656. Returning to the York scenario, presumably most people that would fall within the study will not be eligible for the park and ride scheme which costs £1.50 return, which strikes me, as most people in that bracket probably would not have a car and probably could not afford a return journey. Will you try and press local authorities, through the conclusions of your report, to have better access and a more regular bus service?
  (Ms Wallace) I cannot say what answers we are going to come up with. We have not done the work.

Mrs Dunwoody

  657. You are not saying that you do not wish to make a comment because you do not know anything about it? That is an extraordinary attitude from Whitehall, is it not?
  (Ms Wallace) I am speechless. Yes, I think I am saying that.

Mr Donaldson

  658. A lot of the evidence that has been given to the Committee suggests that many people feel that walking is essential to the success of regeneration strategies. Do you agree that walking is essential to the success of regeneration strategies?
  (Ms Wallace) It is hard to imagine a place being regenerated successfully if people could not walk round it or did not feel safe walking round it. In many areas that are run down, you see a vicious circle where fewer people walk; therefore, fewer people walk because they do not see anybody else and they do not feel safe. Equally, there is a lot of scope for a virtuous circle, where more people walk because more people walk and they are more likely to run into someone and therefore feel safer. I think I would agree with you.

  659. On that basis, what funds might be available to facilitate walking from the funds for urban regeneration? For example, the New Deal for Communities funds and the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund or the Single Regeneration Budget?
  (Ms Wallace) These funds are run from a different department than the one I am in, but we have had some involvement in them being set up. Most of them are very flexible. New Deal for Communities is very flexible for projects that are decided on at grass roots level that have a chance of improving people's access to jobs, people's health, reducing crime. There is no reason why New Deal for Communities or the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund could not be used in this way. There are very few strings attached to both of those funds.

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